Sunday, December 31, 2006

Famous Guns of Filmland No.1

"Mac" lets rip with an M134 mini-gun in PREDATOR


Americans do have their obsessions, but then don’t we all? Sports and movies are right up there, but so are guns. And why the hell not? They’re lots of fun and in the movies, as with real life, people do pay attention when you point a gun. When a movie Director frames his shot of an athletic looking hunk pointing a powerful weapon, and then has the character brave what seem to us impossible odds … well, then you have movie magic! It is a fact that the availability of a new type of exotic firearm can excite the interest of a Producer every bit as much as a perfect new face or a sexy body. Gun designers and brokers clued into that addiction for cinematic firepower decades ago. There have been dozens of movies in which a kick-ass gun is actually a leading character. If you don’t have the Collector’s Edition of JACKIE BROWN, which includes Quentin’s bonus movie “Chicks With Guns”, brother you’re missing out ! Every so often I will choose a “personality gun” from one of the great action movies, and profile it here.

This color still is from an unforgettable scene in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s PREDATOR (1987). Now many of your friends will tell you that Jesse Ventura tore up the screen with a mini-gun in that picture, but it was actually “Mac” played by actor Bill Duke, who ripped up the jungle. Jesse usually posed with one of the two mockup guns, while lucky Bill got to light up “Ole Painless”, a genuine General Electric M134 mini-gun manufactured in the 1960s. The beast was purchased by Stembridge Gun Rentals in 1984 and earned starring roles in several of Arnie’s pictures. Stembridge maintained a vast arsenal because the studios require multiples of key guns be kept on the set. They cannot allow a costly crew to sit around waiting for the techs to repair a gun needed for a scene. This weapon, Serial N313, has been cast in many big films in addition to Predator, including Terminator 11, The Last Action Hero, Iron Eagle 111, The Matrix, and Broken Arrow.

It’s ‘real’ all right, but still a tricked out movie prop. M134s were designed for fixed mounting and are operated by a powerful electric motor which uses mucho juice, so a movie armourer installed a “slower” motor, rated at 1700 rpm. This would produce less torque. At full throttle of an issue M134 the actor wouldn’t be able to hold the weapon steady. The configuration you see in the photo includes a battery carried in the backpack and a prop set of blank firing rotating barrels. Muzzle blast was supplemented with a burning gas source. The weapon was further modified with a vertical pistol grip and an M60 fore stock. While incredibly interesting to look at, the Predator mini-gun would be tactically useless. For example, the length of linked ammunition which seemed to fill the backpack, would only sustain a burst of 3-4 seconds.

This M134 was offered for sale in 1999 for US$125,000. when Stembridge decided to close the gun rental side of their business. California was leading the nation in restrictive gun legislation, and the paperwork and security costs required to move such irreplaceable props around to movie locations became daunting. The display Ad noted “This gun has blank firing barrels restricted to make a nice flash. Included in the package are the electrics, a spare motor, several boxes of parts, a set of new barrels that are live, and some movie prop mounting equipment.” This tiger is now in a museum, but the mockup guns used in Predator are still in rental.

Stembridge Gun Rentals was older than many existing Hollywood studios. The company was formed in 1920 by James Stembridge and Cecil B. DeMille, to supply guns and blank ammunition to the movie industry. For decades its offices and warehouse were on the Paramount Lot. Then in 1999 the decision was made to auction off its inventory of thousands of valuable firearms, many of which were personality pieces used by the biggest Stars. Stembridge had kept records so detailed that in many cases guns could be traced to an actor, scene by scene. They are still "in the business", based in Glendale, California. Up here in Canada we can only look at photographs of such exotic technology and sigh. Tamer memorabilia from Stembridge’s glory days in Hollywood does turn up on EBay, such as empty cartons which once contained blank rounds. Hey, it's something!

Oh yes. Happy New Year!

1 comment:

Wingless Pilot said...

Its the sound of the gun...that turbine-like whining sound...that I'm in love with!